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BREAKING NEWS: CNMI federal judge holds billionaire 'Dragon Lady' in contempt of court

Judge Manglona threatens Ciu Li Jie with jail time

By Nancy I. Maanao

Federal Judge Ramona V. Manglona today held Ciu Li Jie in contempt of court for failing to comply with a subpoena. A schedule of fees will be finalized by this Friday, and Ms. Jie, commonly known in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as 'The Dragon Lady,' will have to pay those fees from her personal funds by March 5.

If she doesn't pay on time, the judge threatened to send her to jail. If Jie so much as asks for an extension or a pay plan, the judge said she will haul her in for a debtor examination and make her open up her books and prove she can't pay.

Ms. Jie is the chairwoman of Imperial Pacific International, the Hong Kong-based parent company of IPI CNMI, which runs the Garapan casino. Ms. Jie's company is chartered in Bermuda and trades on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Seen here are a fraction of the larger-than-life gold-toned statues leading to the steps of the entrance to the behemoth casino in Garapan. Beyond the entrance is a multi-million dollar Swarovski dragon chandelier in the palatial foyer of the casino.

IPI CNMI is a defendant in the case of Tianming Wang, et al. v. Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI), LLC. The case was brought by overseas Chinese workers, when IPI CNMI subcontractor Gold Mantis failed to pay wages and it was discovered that developers also subjected the workers to inhumane living conditions.

Judge Manglona several times instructed IPI CNMI, and eventually the parent company IPI to pay attorneys costs to the plaintiff. The judge's instructions were met by delay and excuses from IPI CNMI officers, including its recent CEO, Don Browne (he resigned in December). Mr. Browne ended up telling the court that he had no ability to pay what the judge had instructed because the parent company, IPI, had been collecting IPI CNMI revenues, but had not provided the money needed to comply with the judge's orders.

Judge Ramona Manglona

IPI's behavior toward the court, and the court's impatience with IPI came to a head in today's show cause hearing, when Ms. Manglona held Ms. Jie in contempt of court, set swift filing deadlines to determine how much Ms. Jie will pay personally for her contempt, and ordered Ms. Jie to pay this yet-to-be-determined amount out of her pocket.

The hearing was unprecedented, not just from the order for The Dragon Lady to pay out of her personal account, but also in the court's clear tone.

The judge said that The Dragon Lady had to pay out of her own personal funds because she personally violated the court order and was uncooperative during deposition as a witness. Ms. Manglona said Jie showed a "flagrant disregard for the truthseeking process." She also said Jie was free to liquidate assets if necessary.

Jie objected to having to pay out of her personal funds. She said the plaintiffs' lawyers intimidated her. Judge Manglona disagreed and said Jie wouldn't even answer the most "innocuous" questions. Ms. Jie then asked to redo her deposition.

The Dragon Lady claimed ignorance and non-involvement with the actions taken by IPI CNMI and its subcontractors. The judge said she found it disturbing that Ms. Jie did not make any effort to inform herself about the problems affecting this company under her control. So the federal judge told Jie about the lawsuit. And then she showed her a photo of one of the injured workers in this lawsuit. She then talked about all the workers who have filed claims and whom IPI has failed to care for.

In the end, Judge Manglona lectured Jie and the defendants about the Golden Rule, telling them to treat others as they would want to be treated.

This morning's hearing was a victory for the little guy, and for justice in the CNMI.


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